Mar 10, 2013

A must-see place in Chennai and a must-introduce man to our kids

I am going to start this article with a little anecdote. It is about the fashionable Che Guerra t-shirt. We all have seen it and of course I met a cousin of mine who was flaunting it one fine day. Out of curiosity, I asked him, “Brother do you know who this man on your vest is?” He said , “Ya they've written his name there – Che Guerra”.. “Ok.. Who is Che Guerra?” "He is a revolutionary” "Well, what kind of revolution did he do?” That became tough for him it seemed.. “Hmm.. he fought for communism.. Against USA perhaps” Perhaps! "You know where he fought for communism?” “Well,that should be one among Russia, China or Cuba”.. O Ernesto Che Guerra, if you are up there and listening, better rest in peace! Well, I don't have any regrets with my brother's notion of Che. We live in an age where we have revolutionised the very act of revolution. True, we get involved in many revolutions against corruption, against injustice to women etc. We raise our voice vehemently and fervently against social injustices! We change our facebook profile pictures! And update status messages and say ‘I am a champion for this cause’

With this context, I am going to tell you about an old-school revolutionary whom I adore and salute. This man is a lunatic, a visionary, an outcast, and a poet – he lived amidst our forefathers in this very own city and his name is Mr. Subramanya Bharathi! I came to know that the home in which he lived has been converted to a memorial and it is still in Chennai. And I went there recently with some of my friends.

This is a place where you don’t get invited to. You don’t hangout. You seek the place!  I sought the place. A little bit of Googling and I found its co-ordinates. It is about a 10 minute walk from Triplicane MRTS station and just opposite to one of the entrances of the Parthasarathy temple. When I went there I was expecting a museum of sorts – antique pens and furniture used by him. It was different and had the more plain stuff – photographs and his poems neatly framed and adorning the walls. 

They have actually framed a very crisp history of his – in fact it is an easy job because he lived only for a short time, at least mortally!

Of the photographs that I saw there, there was the classic Bharathi photo that we see everywhere with the spark in his eyes. There is another rare photo of him and his wife – one person sitting in a chair and the other standing adjacently. A classic husband and wife pose! The twist is that Bharathi was the person standing. And this was pre-independence ! Well and truly, it should have required a lot of guts and intention to do this and flaunt this photo on your living room. And he had both!

As I strolled along I observed his poems in his own handwriting mounted on the walls. And it was really inspiring to watch his handwriting, the old style Tamil alphabet and to think of the moments when those immortal words would have been created! He actually knew that these words are going to be immortal and he has written about that too!

தேடிச் சோறு நிதம் தின்று – பல
சின்னஞ் சிறுகதைகள் பேசி – மனம்
வாடித் துன்பமிக உழன்று – பிறர் 
வாடப் பலசெயல்கள் செய்து – நரை 
கூடிக் கிழப்பருவ மெய்தி – கொடுங்
கூற்றுக் கிரையெனப்பின் மாயும் – பல
வேடிக்கை மனிதரைப் போலே – நான்
வீழ்வே னென்று நினைத்தாயோ?

He is a man who was clearly ahead of his times. By all means, one can argue that he is ahead of even our times. A man who had eyes set on the future and feet tied to the present which lived in the past. He took it on his shoulders to drag the society to the future – HIS future! And at times, his frustration at the society comes out in his words 

நல்லதோர் வீணை செய்தே - அதை
நலங்கெடப் புழுதியில் எறிவதுண்டோ?
சொல்லடி சிவசக்தி - எனைச் 
சுடர்மிகும் அறிவுடன் படைத்துவிட்டாய்!

What I like about him the most is his arrogance of a genius. I am using the word arrogance and not confidence. In his language, he calls it  ஞானச் செருக்கு. That is evident in his writing.

My Tamil teacher told me that he knew 8 languages, which is at least 5 more than most of us. But I have never had an opportunity to see what he has written or spoken in other languages. They have in this home a letter in English that he wrote as a fundraiser to release one of his books and the language used in the letter would make any English professor proud! Talking of arrogance, he asked for people to send him 100 Rs. each to raise Rs. 20,000 to release his book and he even wanted the people to sell their assets and support him, if need be! He was so confident of earning a lakh rupess in book sales and returning their money with interest.

Which never happened of course, and they have framed another excerpt from his wife Chellamma adjacent to it. She says if there is one art that my dear husband never mastered it is the art of money making. How true is that!

And as we were about to leave, the caretaker enquired our whereabouts. He was so surprised that we have come from a place as far as Tambaram to see this place and that explains the massive audience that he manages each day at job. I at least wanted my Che Guerra t-shirt cousin to go there once and I told him he should check this place out. Gladly, he did.

Two things happened after his visit. One – he started reading about Che Guerra and two – we ended up discussing why don't we see a Bharathi t shirt now! Why not ? This man can inspire!

As destiny would have it, the very next day after I wrote this piece, I saw a Bharathi t-shirt (at the Crafts shop, Dhakshin Chithra, ECR, Chennai) and I only take it as a good omen!

I prod you, persuade you and pester you, Chennaiites, to visit this place, take all the kids in your family and tell them that a great man lived here! 

 தத்தரிகிட தத்தரிகிட தித்தோம்

- GS

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. Liked your writing, esp the "prod you, persuade you and pester you" bit. On my next trip to Chennai will find time to visit this place and offer my salutations. I am fortunate enough to have visited his Ettayapuram child hood home a few years ago.